Planning a trip to the beautiful island of Kauai? Check out these best free and inexpensive ideas to make your time amazing!
Our family got to spend one glorious month on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai (with our 4 children ages 3-9)! But even if you only have a week or so, you can still experience the best Kauai beaches, amazing hikes, and delicious restaurants in Kauai.
Kauai is considered to be one of the most adventurous islands, with no shortage of outdoor activities like ziplining, kayaking, surfing, rafting, snorkeling, hiking, and more. So if you’re going with just adults, you’ll have plenty to do.
But don’t be afraid to take your children with you! We found tons of fun kid-friendly activities in Kauai including hikes. You may not be able to do everything you want, but it will still be worth going.
They call Kauai “the garden isle” for a reason. It’s the greenest of the islands, but that also means it’s the wettest. Be prepared for rain! With that said, it’s a warm rain that you can still be out in if you don’t mind getting wet. Pack a rain jacket and some good water sandals so that the rain won’t stop you from adventuring.
The south side of Kauai is considered the sunny side. I recommend staying in the Poipu/Koloa area if you want to maximize the sunshine while you are visiting.
Driving In Kauai
Good news and bad news! The good news is that driving in Kauai is easy. There are is one main road that takes you around the island. Needless to say, you’ll get the hang of navigating very quickly! Traffic can be slow in some areas, but you won’t be fighting big city traffic.
The bad news: Due to the Na Pali Coast, the road does not circle the entire island. Instead, it makes a horseshoe shape. That means to get from the north side (Hanalei and Princeville area) to the west side (Waimea Canyon) you will have to drive all the way around through the east and south side. However, it’s only about a 2 hour drive.
I recommend planning your Kauai activities by area so that you aren’t driving more than you need to.
Kauai Rental Cars
We always use Booking.com to rent our cars because they offer free cancellation and their prices are 99% of time the lowest.
Ways To Save Money In Kauai
Kauai (like all the other Hawaiian islands) is expensive. The great news is that there are plenty of free activities to do on Kauai like hiking, beaches, and visiting small towns.
Food is expensive. In February 2021, a loaf of bread at Big Save or a traditional market was $6-$8 dollar and a gallon of milk was $5. A box of cereal is $6-$8.
Is there a Costco in Kauai?
Yes! There is a Costco in Lihue (near the airport). Take your Costco card and stock up on groceries, beach gear, snorkel gear, etc. before you head to your hotel or vacation rental. I was surprised that most of the prices were the same or at most a few dollars more than the Utah Costcos we shop at.
Eating out is no exception. While there are definitely Kauai restaurants you need to try, you can save a lot of money by cooking your own food if you have a kitchen. We saved a lot of money by making our own meals, with occasional stops at food trucks and restaurants.
Now let’s get to the fun part! Here’s the best activities in Kauai we loved! Anything with an * is something we wanted to do, but either ran out of time or the weather didn’t cooperate for us to go.
Where To Stay In Kauai
Choosing where to stay in Kauai all depends on what you want to do. However, because you can get around the entire island in a few hours, you’ll still be able to access everything no matter where you stay.
Poipu (South Side)
We spent our month in Poipu, which is on the south side and don’t regret it one bit. The south side is the “sunny side.” While we did experience unusual heavy rain, we also got the most sunshine out of anywhere on the island.
If you go in the winter months, I’d recommend staying on the South Side to maximize the sunshine.
Poipu has great beaches for kids, fun hiking trails, good restaurants, and is only about a 20 minute drive to Costco if you need to stock up on food.
Pili Mai (Koloa/Poipu)
We stayed in this Pili Mai AirBnb for the month and LOVED it! With 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a nice lanai and amazing swimming pool, it was perfect for our family of 6 for our stay.
If that specific unit isn’t available, there are many others in the Pili Mai community. It’s a quiet development with a 5 minutes walk to Little Fish Coffee (our favorite place for acai bowls) and a 10-minute walk to the beach. (Although we usually drove to the beach with all the gear.)
West Side (Kekaha, Waimea, Hanapepe)
Waimea Canyon – Waimea Canyon is considered the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. It is beautiful. Take a drive to the west side of the island and then all the way up the canyon to Kalalau Lookout for an amazing view of the Na Pali Coast.
There are also hikes and other view points along the way up or down. Parking is $10 for the entire day and good for all parking areas.
Waimea is on the very west side of the island, so plan to spend a good chunk of time driving to Waimea Canyon.
Red Dirt Falls – locals call this the “ditch”, but it’s also known as Red Dirt Falls. As you drive up to Waimea Canyon, you’ll notice a small stream of water flowing down from red rock and dirt. You can park on the side of the road and explore the small area. Our kids loved this place!
Hanapepe – this cute little town is the home to Lilo and Stitch. Walk across the swinging bridge (that locals still use), browse the art shops, and get some pictures by the murals.
Na Pali Coast Boat Tour* – We were hoping to to this, but the wind was too strong and all boat tours were cancelled. If you want to see the Na Pali coast, this is an adventurous way to do it. Most boat tours have snorkel opportunities and if you plan it right, you might even be able to go into sea caves.
Kekaha Beach – there is a warning to not swim here, but the beach is an excellent one for kite flying and a bonfire. Pick up a box of wood at the Big Save in Waimea for a fun evening.
Jojo’s Shave Ice– pick up a shave ice after hiking in Waimea canyon. There are tons of options. Be sure to try their macademia nut ice cream in one of them!
Porky’s – This place is darling! Porky’s Kauai is famous for Hawaiian pulled pork. Get it on a grilled cheese, hot dog, or rice bowl. For vegetarians, get a rice bowl with their yummy grilled pineapple and onions.
Tiki Tacos – yummy tacos!
Da Pizza Place – a great spot to grab pizza before or after visiting Waimea or Kekaha beach.
South Side (Koloa, Poipu)
Spouting Horn – be sure to check out this free Kauai activity on the South side. A natural blow hole is fun to watch! We also spotted whales breeching here.
You don’t need to plan a lot of time here, but it is worth a stop.
Koloa Landing – voted America’s top swimming pool and for good reason! Nightly rates are about $400, but we signed up for a credit card and got our stay for $250. Totally worth it. The pools, yes pools are incredible! You won’t want to leave.
Makauwahi Cave Trail – this was such a beautiful hike and so full of surprises! We parked at the top and hiked down into the valley. We saw the cave (it is only open on weekends) and hiked along the river.
Across the bridge you’ll find tortoises in large fields. And guess what? You can actually climb into the fields and go pet them and see them close up. Our kids loved this!
There is also a small beach access next to the river. We walked down to the beach and were the only ones there! The view of green-covered cliffs and rocks to climb on were a magical moment we weren’t planning on. Such a fun outing if you have time.
Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail– This is a wonderful hike that follows the Southern coast of Kauai. Park at Shipwreck beach and take the trail that starts at the far left next to the cliff.
You’ll hike through sand along cliffs. There are a lot of trails, but they all lead to the same place. You can hike as fast as you want. The trail leads to cool secret beaches and gorgeous views of the ocean.
The trail ends at the horse stables. You can also do this backwards if you are down that way.
Poipu Beach Park – One of the few lifeguarded beaches. There are 2 parts to Poipu beach with 2 large ad free parking lots. Crossing the road by Brennecke’s will take you to the shallow area with mild waves. You’ll also most likely see a sea turtle or monk seal at this part on the beach. (It is illegal to touch them, so admire them from a distance).
This area has lots of grassy area and a playground to use when you need a break from the water.
Continue around the corner for the other area of Poipu beach. You’ll find more sand and gentler waves to boogie board and swim in and snorkeling areas.
Kiahuna Beach (Sheraton Beach)– this beach has better waves for boogie boarding than Poipu Beach park and has soft sand. Hit up both if you have time. There is a small public parking lot, so get there early.
Shipwreck Beach – This Kauai beach has huge waves. We tried boogie-boarding there but it was even a bit rough for the adults. A lot of local will surf there. Still worth visiting and has a great backdrop for pictures.
Baby Beach – Baby Beach is located right off of Hoona Road. Street parking is free, but limited. This is a perfect crescent-shaped beach with shallow water and fun tide pools to explore. Little children can swim and play in the sand while you can relax knowing no big waves will come.
Keoki’s Paradise– You’ve probably heard of Duke’s, well this is owned by the same company. A fun restaurant with a great ambience. They have live music often and their Hula Pie is the same you’ll find at Duke’s. They also have a decent kid’s menu.
Little Fish Coffee – Not only is this coffee shop super cute (we’re talking about a bright blue shack with plenty of grass and eating area), but their food is amazing. We aren’t coffee drinkers, but everything we ate was delicious. Our favorites were the Pakala Bowl, bagel sandwiches, and the fruit soft serve.
Bubba’s Burgers – a famous burgers, fries, and shakes shop. There prices are quite inexpensive compared to many of the other Kauai restaurants.
Waikomo Shave Ice – You’ll find lots of shave ice places on Kauai, but our favorite was this one. It’s just a small food cart parked next to the market (you’ll almost miss it if you aren’t looking for it. The ambience won’t win any awards, but their all-natural fruit syrup and fresh fruit on top is unlike any other.
Lappert’s Ice Cream – famous ice cream that’s made in Hawaii. There is no shortage of amazing and unique flavors.
Puka Dogs – If you like hot dogs, you’ve got to try these.
East Side (Lihue, Kapa’a, Airport)
Kayak Wailua River/Secret Falls – Rent kayaks at the bottom of the Wailua River for an unforgettable adventure kayaking up the river. You’ll kayak for about an hour to an 1 ½ hours. When you come to a large fork on the river, keep to the right. From there, you can park your kayak and hike about 45 minutes in to Secret Falls. Secret Falls is a large waterfall with a pool at the bottom you can take a dip in.
This is definitely one of those Kauai things to do for adults. It’s a workout, but very doable. Plan about 4 hours for the entire trip.
Lydgate State Park – giant wooden plaground and protected beach area for kids.
Hoopi Falls- Hike just over a mile to the top of the Hoopi Falls- a cascading water fall with a pool and rope swing at the bottom. There is a lookout at the top of the falls, but to get to the bottom, follow these directions. The trail will turn left (to get to the top of the Falls) or go up the mountain to the right. Take the higher trail. You will pass the Hoopi Falls, but shortly after, there will be a sharp right path that will take you to to the bottom of the Falls. It looks a little sketchy, but it’s totally doable.
From there, you can sit on the large rocks, have a picnic or jump in the pool and play on the rope swing! We did this with our kids. Take a hiking backpack for younger ones.
Also, since you’ll be hiking in the middle of the rainforest, expect rain. Wear your swimming suit, pack plenty of water, and wear water shoes.
Hike Sleeping Giant – Sleeping Giant is the large mountain that is very noticeable on your drive north from LIhue to Kapaa. It literally looks like a sleeping giant. Hike to the top (about 4 miles roundtrip) for a 360 degree view of the island.
Kapaa Beach Trail – This is a paved trail that you can run, walk or even bike along. Rent bikes in Kapaa and ride north or just take a stroll from the parking lot at Kapaa beach. There are beautiful cliff and ocean views.
Marriott Beach – go check out the amazing grounds and resort at Marriott Beach Club. Even if you aren’t a guest, you can still swim at the beach and grab some grub at Duke’s.
Java Kai– Get the tropical pancakes and you won’t be disappointed. Their fresh fruit smoothies are also delicious. Go to the back parking lot for a the cute pineapple wall– a great place to get an Instagram worthy photo!
Kountry Kitchen– famous for their GIANT pancakes and I mean giant pancakes. Big breakfast portions at decent prices.
Bubba’s Burgers – Pick up a burger and fries at this popular casual restaurant.
Duke’s – Duke’s is on the Marriott property and it’s worth a visit. The barefoot bar on the bottom serves casual food while you’re hanging on the beach or get a table in the fancy part upstairs. The ambience is incredible. And hula pie is delicious.
Best Gelato: At Coconut Marketplace, there is a market called Island Markets. Inside this ABC store is a little gelato booth with the BEST gelato. (Trust us, we’ve had gelato all over the world.)
Russell’s– vegan comfort food. I had the curry chickpea wrap and it was delish! They also good acai bowls.
North Shore (Hanalei, Princeville)
Kileaua Lighthouse– this is worth a stop even if you don’t pay to enter. There is a small parking lot to park and watch the bird flying and to view the lighthouse.
Cute Shops in downtown Hanalei if you want a break from swimming.
Hanalei Bay – famous beach in Kauai with a pier you can walk out on. We were there in the winter and the water was murky, but I hear in the summer time it is gorgeous!
Snorkeling at Tunnels Beach– some of the best snorkeling on the island is found at Tunnels Beach. (We were there in the winter when the waves are too rough) but we’ve also been in the summer and it had beautiful fish, sea turtles.
Kileaua Bakery – get there early to try their macademia nut sticky buns, but all their baked goods are great!
Holey Grail Donuts – famous donuts on the north shore.
Tell, what things to do in Kauai are you going to do? Or if we’ve missed something on this list, leave a comment so we can add it!
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